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  • Reverend James Squire

You Can Lead a Horse to Water But You Can’t Make Him Think

There are two absolutes about human nature. You can’t tell somebody what to do if they have an option not do it. You can’t manipulate people for it degrades them. Since I got a vaccine shot today, vaccines are on my mind. We are told to get a vaccine and wear a mask. Both of those things work against being told to do them. I use to think that people took this irrational approach because they wanted their freedom. I failed to see what they really meant by freedom. Adam Grant’s most recent book, Think Again, describes what I believe they mean. I am one of those “Don’t tell me what to do people!”

Grant’s research supports a view that I underscore in developing a new form of counseling called Lever Counseling that is on my website, The question I always raise is what does the person have going for him and how can I leverage that to help the person change to reach his goals. This relates to people getting vaccines and putting on a mask as well. I will channel Grant’s research during this blog. What I call counseling, he calls motivational interviewing. His and my premise is that you can’t motivate someone to change. We have to help them find their own motivation and way to change.

Think vaccines and mask wearing as changes that we know will help people and us to live through the Pandemic. Requiring mask wearing and vaccine getting has not worked for everybody. It has worked for me and others because we have decided that it is the best way to stay healthy. We have forgotten how much people resist being told what to do even when their life depends upon it. The more people wouldn’t agree with the CDC approach, the more we talked. We need to listen more.

Motivational interviewing or listening means giving people an opportunity to think about why they have their point of view. This type of approach has changed KKK members, anti-vaccinators, and stopped fights of war lords in Africa. It changed them to be better people in society. Let me share with you some of Grant’s thoughts and research in Think Again.

“When people ignore advice, it isn’t always because they disagree with it. Sometimes they are resisting the sense of pressure and the feeling that someone else is controlling their decision. To protect their freedom instead of giving commands, a motivational interviewer might say something along the lines of ‘here are some things that helped me – do you think any of them might work for you?’ Many communicators try to make themselves look smart. Great listeners are more interested in their audiences feel smart. The power of listening doesn’t lie just in giving people the space to reflect on their views. It’s a display of respect and an expression of care. Listening is a way of offering our scarcest, most precious gift: our attention. Once we’ve demonstrated that we care about them and their goals, they will be more willing to listen to us.”

I know that this approach works in counseling with the most difficult situations.

I always told young faculty members that students won’t care about your subject until they know you care about them. It is the same for mask wearing and getting a vaccine.

We just passed the most transformative legislation in the history of our country which will raise our nation’s children out of poverty, will save our economy and put food on peoples’ tables, will give them jobs to produce income and meaning, and will usher in a future with hope.

We can’t forget that with all the talk by so many it was one sentence that brought all of this about. Just one. I don’t know how many noticed. Getting a somewhat reluctant Joe Manchin’s vote was key. Where other politicians in the past might have pressured him, threatened him, or tweeted about him, Joe Biden said simply to Joe Manchin, “Joe, you have to do what you think is right.” He put the decision in Joe Manchin’s hands.

Fortunately, we have a President who cares about people and uses this kind of exchange to Manchin. I hope it continues to make its way to those who doubt that the vaccines and masks are signs of hope. As strong as the virus is, nothing beats the strengths of Americans who feel listened to and are motivated from within.

Take it from me, someone who really doesn’t like to be told what to do!

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